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April 29, 2013

The Problem with Casual Fridays

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Photo Credit: Ben Goldstein/Studio D

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Geography, of course, is also an important, sometimes complicated consideration. No doubt you've heard how relaxed Silicon Valley is, the Adidas slide-sandal capital of the universe. But it's a different story entirely for women in that town, who, I'm told, have a hard enough time being taken seriously. Which is why I was especially struck by the photos documenting Facebook's infamous IPO last year. There's founder Mark Zuckerberg at the company's Palo Alto headquarters sporting his trademark hoodie, standing beside Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, who's wearing a boardroom-ready beige blazer over a black dress. It's true that Zuckerberg's the boss and can get away with wearing anything he pleases, but I wonder how much of Sandberg's ultraprofessional attire—she was also flanked by women wearing jeans and T-shirts—is meant to overcompensate for her company's informal culture.

So what should a savvy professional woman wear on Fridays? "You want to avoid anything that shows more skin than you'd show the rest of the week," advises Alison Green, author of How to Get a Job: Secrets of a Hiring Manager. "Stay away from flimsy materials or anything that looks like what you'd wear hanging around your house." When it comes to jeans, always stick with a dark wash, preferably in a trouser cut. It gets tricky with shoes, especially flats, which for many women are a casual Friday mainstay. I've interviewed countless women CEOs, founders, and top-level execs over the years—not a single one in flats, which exude a kind of demure good-girl quality that rarely telegraphs power. If you're ambitious, with your eyes steadily fixed on a corner office, you'd do well to save them for weekends and stick with pumps or kitten heels.

Or opt out of casual Fridays altogether. That's what I did a few years back after I noticed that none of the top managers in my office wore jeans to work. Ever. So I stopped treating Friday as though it required a separate wardrobe and acted like it was just another workday. Keep in mind that more than half the respondents to the LinkedIn/Marie Claire survey identified the everyday dress code in their offices as business casual—think slacks and a crisp white shirt, a look that works just as effectively on Monday as it does on Friday.

It was only after I ditched casual Fridays that something unexpected happened. Surrounded by colleagues in colored skinny jeans and flouncy skirts, my more formal Friday attire stood out. On a few occasions, colleagues would pull me aside and whisper conspiratorially, "Are you interviewing for a new job or something?" Over time, I got invited to more meetings and took on bigger projects. I even scored a promotion. My formal Friday workwear wasn't the sole reason, of course, but it probably contributed to an air of self-seriousness about my career. I always looked like I had somewhere important to be, and my employers didn't have to work as hard envisioning me in more prominent roles. Fridays used to be such a hassle for me, figuring out how to look like someone who rolled out of bed and into an Ann Taylor ad. Not anymore. Don't get me wrong—they're still my favorite day of the week (aren't they everyone's?), but now they're also one of my busiest.

 

RULE #1: OPT FOR PIECES YOU CAN WEAR ON MONDAY OR FRIDAY.

RULE #2: ROCK A HEEL — JUST NOT A STILETTO.

RULE #3: AVOID SLEEVELESS. KEEP DRESSES SEASONAL YET PROFESSIONAL.

RULE #4: STICK WITH A DARK DENIM.

RULE #5: BUTTON-DOWNS ARE ALWAYS A SAFE BET.

RULE #6: SAVE BOLD HUES FOR FRIDAYS.

RULE #7: USE ACCESSORIES TO DRESS IT UP.


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